Rembrandt's Wandering Eye?

Genius' Self-Portraits Reveal Misaligned Eye

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 15, 2004 -- You might expect great artists to have perfect vision, letting them see their subjects with crystal-clear sight. But that may not have been the case with Rembrandt.

In fact, the 17th century Dutch master may have had one misaligned eye.

Margaret Livingstone, PhD, and Bevil Conway, PhD, of Harvard Medical School analyzed Rembrandt's self-portraits.

They looked at the position of his eyes in 24 oil paintings and 12 etchings.

In all but one painting, "the eye on the right side of the painting tends to look straight ahead and the other eye deviates outward," write the pair in a letter printed in the Sept. 16 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

One eye was misaligned in all 12 etchings. However, it was the opposite eye than the one in the paintings.

That's not necessarily a contradiction. Etchings are used to make prints, so their images are flip-flopped.

Blessing in Disguise

If it's true, Rembrandt may have turned the condition into an advantage. A wandering eye makes it harder to judge depth perception. Lack of depth perception is known as stereoblindness.

"Art teachers often instruct students to close one eye in order to flatten what they see," write the researchers. Thus, stereoblindness may be an asset to painters as they attempt to create three-dimensional images on flat canvas surfaces.

Besides, when it came to seeing into the soul, Rembrandt's vision was world class.

Show Sources

SOURCE: Livingstone, M. and Conway, B. The New England Journal of Medicine, Sept. 16, 2004; vol 351: pp 1264-1265.
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